FARMINGTON — A longtime teacher, leader and supporter of adult education was acknowledged recently on a national level at the Coalition of Adult Education National Conference held in Chicago.
Ray Therrien, director of RSU 9 Franklin County Adult Basic Education, was awarded an honorable mention for the ABE Administrator of the Year Award during the national conference.
Humbly accepting acknowledgement, he noted how there are “a lot people out there who do so many incredible things. I blush a little bit about it.”
After receiving the 2008 Maine Adult Education Association Gerald LeVasseur award, his name was submitted for this Administrator the Year award, he said.
Therrien has received numerous awards for his 30 years of working and helping adult learners including general education diploma students, migrant and displaced workers, inmates and adults pursuing college.
Awards were not his goal.
“The fact is I’ve always felt very connected to the disconnected. Many adults just never had the opportunity to access the game board of life in a real sequential continuum without having it interrupted to the point they couldn’t move forward,” he said Thursday.
These life interruptions led them to believe it was because of them, bringing feelings of guilt rather than realizing the reason behind it. Most people, given an opportunity to be empowered and recognize their own sense of worth, can turn things around and see the potential within themselves, he said.
He tells adult learners, “we will believe in you before you do … we’ve seen it happen … that’s our business,” he said.
His philosophy comes not only from a college degree in elementary education. His own background led him to “not believe in myself.”
Experiencing the mentoring of others along the way who believed in him fostered the “idea that maybe I could contribute something that’s meaningful.”
“Taking a job that becomes such an inspiration and motivational thing … it doesn’t even feel like a job. It’s enjoyable to watch people learn and grow,” he said.
A Jay native, Therrien earned a degree from the University of Maine at Farmington but his first job was working with refugees, teaching English as a second language, then working in county jails and migrant populations. He helped run an alternative school at Mt. Blue High School where he worked with “kids just like I was.”
His definition of a teacher is one “who gently leads someone back to who they are. People get away from believing in themselves,” he said.
Therrien was one who felt intimidated by school but after a stint in the Navy, veteran programs like the Veteran Early Entrance Program helped him buy into his own possibilities.
“I don’t believe I could have made it without them,” he said. Many of the “incubator approach” ideas for higher education he experienced in these programs are now used in the adult education’s college transition program where students are prepared for the college culture rather than just “jumping in with both feet.”
Therrien lives in Farmington with his wife, Joanne. His daughter is living in California and he now has a grandson, he said. He enjoys music and while in the Navy played drums for the Drum and Bugle Corp making a goodwill tour to South America where the impoverished lifestyle made an impact on him, he said.
“I definitely found my niche. I’m just grateful for my good fortune to find work that is meaningful for me and where I can make a living but there’s plenty more to do,” he said.